1 Journal of Advertising Research Vol. 55, No. 1, How Do Teaser Advertisements Boost Word of Mouth about New Products? For Consumers, the Future Is More Exciting Than the Present Helge Thorbjørnsen Norwegian School of Economics Paul Ketelaar and Jonathan van t Riet Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands Micael Dahlén Stockholm School of Economics INTRODUCTION Advertising that stimulates consumer curiosity and positive word of mouth (WOM) is effective (Rubinson, 2009). Research long has demonstrated the importance of consumer WOM in attitude formation (Bone, 1995), decision making (Bansal and Voyer, 2000), and the reduction of uncertainty (Murray, 1991). In one investigation, WOM communications influenced nearly 70 percent of all buying decisions (Balter, 2008). Since the advent of Facebook and other social media and the addition of a wide range of online brand communities and new communication formats little doubt has existed as to the potential of WOM in boosting a new product s commercial success. It is important, therefore, to identify factors that effectively facilitate positive WOM for new products. Advertisers long have used teaser advertisements and product pre-announcements to create online and offline buzz for forthcoming movies and books, new car models, future high-tech products, and so on. To date, however, little research has investigated the effects of such advertising on consumers WOM behavior. In the current research, the authors argued and demonstrated that future-framed advertising is a potent tool for facilitating positive product-related WOM for new products. The study presupposes that the future generally is more interesting than the present: It is more uncertain, often more optimistic, and certainly more interesting to discuss. Anecdotal evidence has suggested that this also is true for future products. An often-cited example is the 2012 launch of iphone 5, for which the WOM/buzz was believed to have contributed significantly to its success: The new iphone was discussed on the Internet long before its release date (Appleinsider.com, 2012). Google trends showed a significant increase in search volume in 2011, when advance reports suggested that the iphone 5 would appear on the market in September When it later became known that the launch had been postponed to 2012, the search volume dropped enormously, only to rise again when its actual release date in September 2012 approached. The example of the iphone 5 suggests that, in the domain of consumer behavior, people sometimes demonstrate inflated interest and preference for future products over currently available ones (Dahlén, Thorbjørnsen, and Sjödin, 2011). One reason for this may be the (positive) uncertainty (Lee and Qiu, 2009) associated with new products and services. Uncertainty offers consumers the opportunity to imagine and speculate on a product s potentially positive characteristics and outcomes. (See The Power of Positive Uncertainty below). In the current research, the authors posited that the positively framed uncertainty associated with future products (versus currently available products) would make consumers perceive these products as more interesting and cause them to spend more effort on imagining and elaborating on product features. Earlier research had suggested that advertisements for forthcoming products resulted in more positive evaluations than advertisements for otherwise equivalent current products. The cultural phenomenon is captured in the term Nextopia, described as a general belief among consumers that the next product will always be the better one (Dahlén et al., 2011, p. 33). The authors of the current study argued that the positive uncertainty associated with future products would not only make consumers more interested in an advertised product but render them more inclined to engage in product-related WOM. To that end, they investigated whether (and how) future-oriented advertising could spur positive WOM about the advertised product compared with present-oriented advertisements. To the authors knowledge, no studies to date have investigated the potential for future-oriented advertising to facilitate WOM. In their research, the authors tested the relationship between future-oriented advertising and WOM in two separate studies. Also, they hypothesized that consumers more likely would elaborate on, Like, and ultimately forward information about forthcoming products than information about currently available products. WOM AND ITS MARKETING POTENTIAL
2 WOM usually was long characterized as oral, person-to-person communication between a receiver and a communicator whom the receiver perceives as non-commercial toward a brand, product, or service (Arndt, 1967). As the marketing ecosystem entered the digital age, most researchers have added electronic media to this definition (Buttle, 1998; Li and Zhan, 2011). Others preferred to call it electronic WOM, or e-wom (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004). In the current research, the authors conceptualize WOM as being both offline and online. It can be hugely profitable for firms seemingly acting without obvious commercial intent to induce consumers to pass on commercial messages, mostly because receivers trust the intrinsic motivations of senders. Indeed, WOM has been shown to affect not only purchasing behavior (Arndt, 1967; Price and Feick, 1984; Udell, 1996) but consumer expectations (Zeithaml and Bitner, 1996), feelings, and attitudes both before (Herr, Kardes, and Kim, 1991) and after (Bone, 1995) product purchase. In one online setting, consumers did not perceive an with product information as junk mail when it came from someone they knew (Phelps et al., 2004); rather they inferred that the product in question must be worthwhile if the sender wanted to inform them about it. Although marketers sometimes attempt to stimulate positive WOM through oral communication and/or electronic media an activity known as WOM marketing or viral marketing (Hinz et al., 2011; Vilpponen, Winter, and Sundqvist, 2006; Woerdl et al., 2008) what people say about products largely is beyond the control of marketers (Woerdl et al., 2008). Thus, advertising that proves to increase positive WOM would seem to have important marketing ramifications because it would provide a vital tool that marketers could use to boost product interest. In the current research, the authors hypothesized that future-oriented advertising (i.e., advertising about products that will become available in the future) would trigger more WOM than present-oriented advertising (i.e., advertising about currently available products). If so, the authors believe, future-oriented advertising would provide marketers with an important tool with which to influence consumers WOM behavior. How and why however, would future-oriented advertising stimulate positive WOM? The Power of Positive Uncertainty The idea that consumers prefer future products to currently available ones has been studied previously. Consider experiments that were conducted in which participants were shown one of two advertisements (Dahlén et al., 2011). One advertisement promoted a product described as currently available; the other advertised the same product, but participants were led to believe that the product was yet to be released. The results showed that the future-oriented advertisements consistently induced greater elaboration and resulted in more positive evaluations of both advertisement and brand. One key mechanism likely explaining these effects is positive uncertainty. Although most economics and marketing research explicitly or implicitly has conceptualized uncertainty as something negative for consumers, other research has indicated that, when positively framed, uncertainty can yield more pleasure than certainty (Lee and Qiu, 2009; Wilson et al., 2005). For example, when people do not know exactly what they might win (or even have won) in a lottery, they tend to enjoy the experience more than when they do know (Lee and Qiu, 2009). Moreover, in the case of films, people have higher expectations when movie trailers leave them uncertain about the specific content and resolution of the movie (Wilson et al., 2005). Thus, there are two implications: the future is more uncertain than the present, and the properties of forthcoming products are more (positive) uncertain than those of currently available ones. Scholarly work on the optimistic bias has suggested that this uncertainty has a positive valence (McKenna, 1993; Oettingen and Mayer, 2002; Weinstein, 1980). People are overly optimistic about their own (uncertain) future and overestimate the value of future products (Dahlén et al., 2011; Loewenstein, O Donoghue, and Rabin, 2003; Zhao, Meyer, and Han, 2003). Therefore, the current authors believe, the (positive) uncertainty and novelty stemming from future products will stimulate consumers product interests, imagination, elaboration and, in turn, their WOM behavior. Indeed, the link between uncertainty and WOM has drawn attention in WOM research: The perceived uncertainty associated with a product was suggested to have stimulated WOM (Arndt, 1967). And, in consumption settings in which uncertainty was high, such as for experience goods (e.g., movies), WOM was common and also played a central role in product success (Bruce, Foutz, and Kolsarici, 2012; Neelamegham and Jain, 1999). In addition to being more uncertain, future products likely will be more interesting than currently available products. Conventional wisdom and practice have suggested that products need to be interesting to spur discussion (Berger and Schwartz, 2011). Consumers generally talk about things that they perceive as interesting and that also make them appear interesting to others. Additionally, consumers selfpresentation and self-enhancement have been found to be key motivations for generating WOM (De Angelis et al., 2012). Thus, because consumers generally perceive forthcoming products as more novel, interesting, and having more social currency (possibilities for self-enhancement) than currently available products, such products more likely will generate positive WOM than (identical) currently available products. HYPOTHESES Considerations about how future-oriented advertising may be more (positive) uncertain, novel, and interesting than advertising for currently available products led the authors of the current study to present hypotheses that further were tested in two separate studies: H1a: Advertising with a future focus compared to content with a current time frame leads to more product interest. H1b: Advertising with a future focus compared to content with a current perspective leads to more product-related thoughts.
3 H2: Advertising with a future focus increases recipients propensity to engage in WOM when compared to content with a current time frame. That is, the authors hypothesized, the mere information about a product that is forthcoming likely would lead to more interest in the product (e.g., online clicks ); more product elaboration; and increased propensity to share the product information via online WOM (e.g., online forwarding). In addition, the authors expected that the content of the WOM consumers forward to others would be more elaborate and favorable when stemming from future-oriented advertisements an assumption that led to the following hypothesis: H3a: Advertising with a future focus compared to content with a current perspective increases the elaborateness of WOM. H3b: Advertising with a future focus compared to content with a current time frame increases the favorability of forwarded WOM. METHODOLOGY STUDY 1 Study 1 used a real setting to test H1a, H2, and H3a/b. The study tested time frame (future versus present) as a between-subjects factor in a field experiment of an actual product launch. A Swedish marketer cooperated with the research team to study the launch of two models of a designer alarm clock one black, the other white a few weeks apart. The clocks were identical except for the color. At the time of the release of the first (black) model, the Swedish lifestyle magazine Plaza reported on the introduction in its Things and Gadgets section that could be accessed only through a link in a headline-alert . Stimuli and Procedure During the release of the new model, subscribers were exposed to the magazine s online alert about a new designer alarm clock but with two different executions: It presented two versions of the headline: Just Out: The Really Cool Wake-Up Caller, and Coming Soon: The Really Cool Wake-Up Caller. Each headline-alert version was sent to 40,000 subscribers, who were assigned randomly to the two treatments. Respondents could choose: Click on the headline. The headlines were linked to an online page with a brief editorial item about the alarm clock and its design. The editorial correspondingly featured either the black ( just out ) or the white ( coming soon ) model. The texts and layouts were identical except for the information that the black model is just out and that the white model will be released in a few weeks. Forward the information in the editorial to other people. To make forwarding possible, the online page promoted a recommendation function in which readers could forward the link to the editorial piece by typing in any number of addresses and writing a message to the receivers in a text box. The authors used this function to compare WOM between the two time frames for H2 (number of sent recommendations, gauged as the percentage of readers who forwarded the link), H3a (average word count in the messages), and H3b (average valence of the messages, coded on a scale from 3 to +3 by two judges [r = 0.74] blind to the study purpose and experimental conditions). Results In support of H1a advertising with a future-versus-present time frame results in more positive product interest the future-framed version of the headline that promoted the coming soon model generated a significantly (χ 2 = , p < 0.01) higher click-through rate (3.14 percent, n = 1256) to the editorial than the current version, which promoted the just out model (1.86 percent, n = 756). This finding suggested that there was a main effect of time framing of the advertisements on product interest (See Table 1). In examination of H2 that, in advertising with a future-versus-present time frame, recipients propensity to engage in WOM would increase readers of the editorial forwarded the link significantly more often in the future-framed condition (5.89 percent, n = 74) than in the present-framed condition (3.72 percent, n = 28; χ 2 = 4.25, p < 0.05). Thus, H2 was supported. As the authors had hypothesized, advertising with a future-versus-present time frame increased the amount/elaborateness of WOM. In comparing the actual recommendations, the researchers found that the future-framed condition generated a higher average word count than the present-framed condition (4.63 versus 3.15; p < 0.01, t = 3.11). Thus, H3a was supported. Finally, the average valence shows that the recommendations were more positive for the future-framed condition than for the presentframed condition (0.97 versus 0.48; p < 0.01, t = 2.37). Thus, H3b future frames increase WOM favorability more than present frames was supported. Discussion
4 The findings supported the authors hypothesized main effects. The future time frame exerted significantly positive effects on WOM with respect to the number of recommendations, elaboration in terms of the average number of words, and favorability in terms of the average valence of the recommendations. Although the field experiment provided a novel and ecologically valid test of an actual product launch, however, this test environment had lower internal validity when compared with a more controlled lab setting. Although the future-framed versus present-framed product releases were highly similar, they were not 100 percent identical in that the colors of the products in the two experimental treatments varied (black versus white). Thus, to increase internal validity and also test the hypotheses for other product categories, the researchers conducted a second experiment in a more controlled lab setting. STUDY 2 Study 2 was designed to test H1b, H2, and H3b, and it included two additional product categories: mineral water and movies. These categories frequently feature advertising in both future and present time frames. The researchers used print advertisements as stimuli. The advertisements were identical in both executions, with the exception of the manipulation: In the future-framed condition, the headline read, Coming Soon ; in the present-framed condition, the headline read, Out Now. The mineral-water advertisement promoted a new flavor for the domestic number-two brand; the movie advertisement showcased a new foreign movie that recently had been released in its home market. With this selection of materials, the researchers avoided confounding effects from previous exposures. Some 340 participants were recruited through an online panel for the experiment (48 percent male, M age = 24.4). The online panel was representative in terms of demographics of the general population in the relevant market. The researchers randomly assigned the participants to two conditions (future- versus present-framed advertisements). No difference existed between the two conditions in terms of gender and age. In total, there were four cells (2 time frames 2 products) for an average cell size of 85 participants. The participants received no incentive for their participation. Measures The researchers measured product-related thoughts with a thought protocol similar to an earlier scenario in which participants listed their spontaneous thoughts immediately after seeing the advertisement (Dahlén et al., 2011). Next, they counted the total number of thoughts. To obtain a measure of favorability, they asked the participants to go back to the thought protocol after finishing the questionnaire and to indicate for each listed thought whether it was positive (+), negative ( ), or neutral (0). They then calculated the net number of positive thoughts by subtracting them from the negative thoughts. They measured WOM propensity with two items ( would talk about and will post information about ; r = 0.85), and assessed WOM favorability with two items ( would forward positive information about and would forward negative information about ). The researchers then subtracted the positive information item from the negative information item to obtain a measure of net favorability. Results The future-framed condition generated a significantly greater number of spontaneous thoughts (3.88 versus 3.42; p < 0.05) and more favorable spontaneous thoughts (1.21 versus 0.69; p < 0.05) than the present-framed condition. Thus, H1b was supported. In line with the hypotheses, WOM propensity (H2) (3.30 versus 2.66; p < 0.01) and favorability (H3b) (2.27 versus 1.73; p < 0.01) also were greater in the future than the present condition (See Table 2). Thus, H2 was supported. DISCUSSION OF THE TWO STUDIES The Benefits of Future-Framed Advertising The buzz surrounding forthcoming products such as next-generation iphones or the latest Justin Bieber album, to name two clearly demonstrates that consumers are biased toward the next big thing. The current research suggests that future-oriented advertising can result in more and more positive WOM than present-oriented advertising. In Study 1, a future-oriented headline about a new designer alarm clock resulted in a higher click-through rate than a headline about a currently available designer alarm clock. The research design of Study 1 enabled the authors to assess actual WOM behavior in a real-life setting. The study s results showed that participants more likely would forward an editorial link (using the recommendation function on the Web site) and forward positive WOM after being exposed to a future-oriented headline than a present-oriented headline. Study 2 results showed that future-oriented advertising about mineral water and movies resulted in more positive thoughts, more favorability, and a higher propensity to engage in WOM than present-oriented advertising. Combined, the two studies showed that information about forthcoming products significantly can contribute to increased, positive WOM. These results are highly relevant to marketers and advertisers because they illustrate that teaser advertising and product preannouncements cannot only result in immediate increased interest in the product but help to create buzz that renders the product even
5 more exciting to an increasing number of consumers. It has been demonstrated that new products may profit from a significant jump start from the viral communication of brand messages, given the diffusion range of advertising messages within social media: A friend tells a friend who tells his/her friends and the diffusion rate increases as the information travels the social channel (Petrescu and Korgaonkar, 2011, p. 213). Notable in Study 1 is that the percentage of people who forwarded the information about the product was not very high (5.89 percent in the future-oriented condition and 3.72 percent in the present-oriented condition). Viral-marketing models derived from the discipline of epidemiology (i.e., Bampo et al., 2008; Hoang and Lim, 2012), however, have shown that the relatively small difference between the two conditions can continue to increase if perpetuated through several cycles of WOM. Also, given that WOM generally has higher credibility and relevance to customers than marketer-created sources of information (Bickart and Schindler, 2001; Duana, Gua, and Whinston, 2008), even small differences in forwarding behavior may have a substantial payoff. In the context of advertising for membership of a social network site, in fact, one estimate cited the effect of WOM on customer acquisition at 20 times that of regular marketing events (Trusov, Bucklin, and Pauwels, 2009). Hence, even if future-framed advertising results in an increase in exposure that is quantitatively small, the extra exposure may be of very high quality from an advertiser s point of view. In all, given the importance of WOM for marketing (Arndt, 1967; Bone, 1995; Herr et al., 1991; Keller and Fay, 2012; Price and Feick, 1984; Udell, 1996; Zeithaml and Bitner, 1996), the current research suggests that employing future-framed advertising likely is profitable for many firms. Advertising a product that is not yet on the market, however, also may have negative effects. By revealing a future product launch, for example, the firm enables its competitors to effectively respond to the pre-announced product through advertising or other marketing means. Future-oriented advertising also might be risky and even wasteful, for example, when the time between the pre-announcement and the actual availability of the product is too long. If interest and awareness quickly wane, firms risk advertising to an empty shelf and waste advertising spending. Moreover, the long-term success of future-oriented advertising likely depends on the type of product (e.g., high- versus low-involving) and the existing familiarity with the brand. Apple s pre-announcements of forthcoming products likely would have a stronger and more enduring effect on WOM than a similar pre-announcement effort by a less-known producer of Gouda cheese. FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS The current study builds on consumer psychology literature to discuss how the future is construed as a positive uncertainty that generates more product interest, elaboration, and pleasure and, in turn, how this may boost WOM behavior. Future-framed advertising generates more product-related thoughts, higher WOM propensity, and more favorable WOM than currentframed advertising. The likely explanation for this is that people perceive the future as more novel, interesting, and positive uncertain than the present. This research did not allow for a direct test of these explanations, however; further research should devote more attention to the underlying mechanisms involved. For example, several other intertwined psychological mechanisms may account for consumers biased preferences for temporal distant objects and events, including the optimistic bias (McKenna, 1993; Tanner and Carlson, 2008; Weinstein, 1980), inaccurate affective forecasting (Ebert, Gilbert, and Wilson, 2009; Wilson et al., 2005), and construal level (Trope and Liberman, 2000). The current research shows that future-framed advertising can be an effective vehicle in increasing consumers interest in the advertised product and enhancing their propensity to engage in WOM. Future studies should focus on mediators and moderators of the mechanisms underlying the effects of future-framed advertising on WOM. Moreover, future research also could examine other advertising tactics using consumers positive uncertainty in generating WOM. For example, open (versus closed) advertising messages may increase consumers (positive) uncertainty and product interest and thus boost WOM in ways similar to the studies reported herein. Helge Thorbjørnsen is professor at the Center for Service Innovation at the Norwegian School of Economics. His areas of specialization are consumer psychology, marketing communication, and branding. His work has been published in journals such as the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Journal of Services Research, and Journal of Advertising. Paul Ketelaar is a senior assistant professor in media communication and influence at the Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University Nijmegen. His research focuses on the effects of innovative marketing communication strategies with a special interest in tailored persuasion campaigns. His research has appeared in the Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising, the Journal of Euromarketing, and the Journal of Visual Literacy. Jonathan van â t Riet is a senior assistant professor of persuasive communication at the Behavioral Science Institute of Radboud University Nijmegen. His work focuses on health communication, with a special interest in online and digital communication. His work has been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Psychology and Health, and Health Psychology Review, among other outlets. Micael Dahlén is a professor in marketing at the Center for Consumer Marketing at Stockholm School of Economics. His research interests are consumer behavior and creativity and advertising. Dahlén has written books on diverse topics such as marketing, happiness, serial killers, and social media, and his work has appeared in journals such as Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Advertising, International Journal of Research in Marketing, and Psychology and Marketing.
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